Hello Caerus Artists! Hope to see you on Thursday April 4 5-6:30, Symphony Offices, 50 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. The Symphony may be looking for the next artist to hang their walls…

trojanhorse“Trojan Horse”,  2’X2′ acrylic on canvas, by Suzanne Edminster and I

There’s another chance to see the Four Hands Painting work by Suzanne Edminster and I at the Santa Rosa Symphony offices in downtown Santa Rosa, CA.  Also featured are Suzanne’s magical acrylic abstracts.  We hope you will join us for the opening, April 4, this Thursday evening  at 5-6:30.
Santa Rosa Symphony
50 Santa Rosa Avenue, Suite 410
(In the Bank of Marin building)
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

For more information you can see the invitation here and view Suzanne Edminster’s work at saltworkstudio.

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Lessons From Michelangelo — Part 3


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Portrait of Michelangelo by Jacopino del Conte (after 1535) at the age of 60

Portrait of Michelangelo by Jacopino del Conte (after 1535) at the age of 60

Michelangelo "Self Portrait "Last Judgement" in the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo “Self Portrait “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel

“There can be no doubt that Michelangelo was sent into the world by God as an exemplar for thoses who practice the arts, so that they might learn from his behavior how to live and from his works how to perform as a true and excellent craftsman.”
— Giorgio Vasari, in his book Lives of the Artists (1550)

Varsi’s famous work both lionizes and sanctifies Michelangelo as “an artist of sublime intellect, infused with divine grace and knowledge.” Vasari also created many of the legendary myths of a saintly man and beatific artist who lived only for his art.

I, too, believe that we may draw direct lessons from the scope of the life and work of Michelangelo. Although not setting these entries within any numerical order to avoid a false sense of hierarchy, I maintain the foremost lesson we must remember is that Michelangelo was a working artist and thus connects to our own personal artistic experiences. I have developed a deep affinity with Michelangelo in the process of working on these posts.

This is the third installment of “Lessons from Michelangelo.” If interested, you may find Part One here, and Part Two here.  There is an overview about the Sistine Chapel that originally inspired the series here.

A "Cupid" figure attributed to the teenage Michelangelo

A “Cupid” figure attributed to the teenage Michelangelo

“The Torment of Saint Anthony,”  believed to be Michelangelo's earliest known painting. (1487)

“The Torment of Saint Anthony,” believed to be Michelangelo’s earliest known painting. (1487)

Michelangelo Lesson: Exalt the Passion of Observation

“My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth’s loveliness.”

“From such a gentle thing, from such a fountain of all delight, my every pain is born.”

“Nature did all things well.”

Michelangelo paid special observation to the big vistas as well as the smallest details. Apprenticed to the painter Ghirlandaio at the age of thirteen, he remembered the careful study of the fish market to heighten details in  his assignments at this busy and commercial shop. Before he was twenty, he asserted that he researched anatomy directly with scientific dissection of corpse, the absolutely forbidden by church doctrine.

Michelangelo drew with an obsession and from a compassion for beauty of the human form.  He was constantly observing humanity along with his immersion in the studies of the wonders of classical antiquity. He reveled in the sublimity o the sensuality of interaction of human bodies.

Although the grandeur of his monumental figures are astonishing, they are rooted in meticulous, daily observations of life, heightened by the originality of his vision and imagination.

We can elevate our level of observation of all the senses and from all sensations that the world offers us in splendor. Dust off the sketchbook and carry it on all your many journeys. Visual art is not merely an optic manifestation, but springs forth and expresses a deep involvement in all aspects and facets of life.

Michelangelo's carved signature on the 'Pieta" of St. Peter's

Michelangelo’s carved signature on the ‘Pieta” of St. Peter’s

Another view of the placement of the signature

Another view of the placement of the signature

Another detail of the placement his signature

Another detail of the placement his signature

Michelangelo Lesson: Seek Spirit

“The true work of art is but a shadow of divine perfection.”

“I regret that I have not done enough for the salvation of my soul…..”

“True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it.”

Michelangelo did not work for personal glorification (though he was very cognizant and careful of his artistic reputation.) The only time he signed a work was the “Pieta” in Saint Peter’s in Rome. The youthful proclamation carved on the ribbon of the Madonna when he was 23 years old read: “Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This.” (He later regretted this boastfulness.) Nor did he create strictly for his patrons (he frequently changed the scope, scale and timing of his contracts.) For him, art was a ecstatic path to explore his sense of the sublime and the divine for the refinement of his earthily life and for the development of his soul.

Michelangelo was a pious Christian who was scornful of dogmatic doctrine. He disdained false priests and the folly of warring popes. During a time religious absolutism, Michelangelo studied texts that would have been considered heretical, with the technical risk of his soul, not to mention the real possibility of a death sentence.

Michelangelo was exposed to ‘neoplatonism’ during his youth at the de’Medici villa, an art school overseen by Lorenzo the Magnificent. After the medieval shop system of guilds, this atmosphere full of opportunity of intellectual freedom, to research ‘forbidden’ subjects and to question doctrine was a heady mix.

Michelangelo believed in the Neoplatonic notion that physical beauty is manifested by noble spirit. He was also influenced by the crossing of Medieval beliefs and assumptions with Renaissance sensibility of forms, space and light. We can often see this dichotomy in his work with its poignancy of spiritual struggle combined and counted with the expression of the exaltation of the human spirit.

Consider how you might approach this the compassion of spirit with the emergence of beauty in your work.  How might you express the underlaying understanding of our time with intuition and imagination?

"The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants"  Sistine Chapel

“The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants” Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo's signature

Michelangelo’s signature

Michelangelo Lesson: Concentrate Your Artistic Identity and Endeavors

“Michelangelo, the sculptor” (how he signed his important painting contracts and his letters.)

“….sculpture (is) the lantern of painting, and that between the one and the other (is) that difference between the sun and the moon.”

Although he exceeded in many disciplines, Michelangelo always professed he thought of himself as a sculptor rather than a painter, or some hybrid of approaches. He constantly disclaimed his profession of painting, even though he is now considered one of the greatest painters in the history of European art. In the opinion of many, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel comprises the greatest masterpiece of Western Art. He recommended that all painters keep their work rigorous by doing sculpture. He asserted sculptural stone craving demanded more refined artistic judgement than painting and required the reality of hard work.

Most artists believe their discipline is the most difficult and demanding. I believe that as artists, we need to commit to a discipline in order not to devolve into dilettantism. We have to dedicate ourselves to our work and not dabble.  I do not speak of those who have cobbled their singular approach from a combination of many artistic approaches, disciplines and traditions, but of those those who try to follow too many paths at the same instant. Michelangelo expressed himself in many areas of creativity, but always held to his identity as a sculptor.

Study for "Annunciation" -- 1547

Study for “Annunciation” — 1547

"Pieta" 1550, said to be a self-portrait,  originally carved for Michelangelo's tomb -- later mutilated

“Pieta” 1550, said to be a self-portrait, originally carved for Michelangelo’s tomb — later mutilated

Michelangelo Lesson and Counter-Lesson: Take Care of Your Artist

“I feast on wine and bread, and feasts they are.” “After four tortured years, more than 400 over life-sized figures, I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become.”

“Everything hurts.”

Michelangelo was not good at self-care. He was full of dynamism and energy coupled to an anxious demeanor and despair. A workaholic who undertook herculean tasks, he was haunted by a pernicious perfectionism.

His hygiene was notoriously poor during an era when daily cleanness was not paramount.  He thought of himself as aged and old half-way though his long life.  During the last forty years, he contemplated, mediated, nearly obsessed with death. He sacrificed almost his entire income for sculpture and for his family and lived in  the squalor of extreme privation in that period of few creature comforts.

Michelangelo was terrible at time management. he entertained unrealistic perceptions about the amount of time, sheer effort and costs of his commissions. He overcommitted his time and never completed many of his contracts.   The most notorious example is the “Tomb of Julius !!,” the papal patron of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The original design called for 40 larger-than-life states, several reliefs within an archituecturally detailed structure to be completed within five years.  But within the span of forty years, he produced only ten sculptures — four of which are considered unfinished.

He mania for perfectionism is cited as the reason that even though he lived a long life, was a compulsive drawer and philosophical scholar, that we have remarkably scare resources of his private work.  Two days before he died, he stoked two big bonfires in the courtyard of his studio.  When they entered the studio after his death, there was not one piece of paper to be found.  Some maintain that he wanted control of his legacy by not leaving anything that did not meet his elevated standards.  Others propose the concept that he burned his heretical studies to protect his friends and family from being themselves consigned to the flames of various inquisitions.

And yet for all his crankiness and moodiness, Michelangelo was beloved by his friends, who cared deeply for him.  There are many stories of his attending parties with other artists and of hosting celebrations where they all would play games that involved drawing.

As artists, we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our art practice and work. Overworking workaholism, pesky perfectionism, not eating healthfully or sleeping sufficiently will diminish the exaltation of our art.

"Creation of Adam" Sistine Chapel - detail

“Creation of Adam” Sistine Chapel – detail

Michelangelo is an enigma and a beacon. There are many aspects and questions that can never fully be answered, discovered or explored about his work and his life.  There is always something new to learn.  That is one of the marks of greatness.

Karina Nishi Marcus

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Feb. 16th & 17th Fun: Afternoon pie and art, and Sat. evening mythical beasts, with Caerus Artists Lauri Luck, Karina Nishi Marcus, and Suzanne Edminster


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Nishi Marcus & Lauri Luck in front of her studio with the "Lucky": sign

Nishi Marcus & Lauri Luck in front of her studio with the “Lucky” sign

From Karina Nishi Marcus: Caerus artist Lauri Luck has invited me to exhibit with her at her at her studio this weekend: February 16th and 17th from 12pm to 3pm. This is an excellent opportunity to get a taste of both of our work plus a taste of delicious pie! If you have a moment during the weekend to stop by — we would love to chat with fellow Caerus artists, friends and family.

Come to see art -- stay and enjoy pie!

Come to see art — stay and enjoy pie!

Lauri Luck opens her studio most weekends and has generously included me for the Valentine’s Day weekend celebration. She calls these events “Come Get Pie-eyed at the Dog House Studio.” If you have not yet visited her studio you are in for a visual and gustatory treat.

Her studio is located at 2371 Gravenstein Hwy South, just outside of Sebastopol. Turn at the big yellow-ducky fabricated from an old trailer (it is hard to miss.)  Her studio building is under the “Lucky” (for Luck) sign.  Remember: You cannot get ‘pie-eyed” without pie! Lauri and I, Nishi, look forward to this festive occasion with you!

From Suzanne: After enjoying your pie and art, consider coming into Santa Rosa for The Gallery of Sea and Heaven’s Alkonost Show, 5-7 PM.  The theme is myth and legend, and the show is carefully curated to highlight visual narratives. There will be an original folktale reading, and a wild animal thing or two. The Alkonost Bird on the invitation is really fun; I love mythology, but had never heard of this Slavic woman-bird. Here is the Alkonost version and invitation from the Gallery, followed by a traditional rendition.

Opening Sat. Feb. 16, 5-7, Gallery of Sea and Heaven, Santa Ros

Opening Sat. Feb. 16, 5-7, Gallery of Sea and Heaven, Santa Rosa

She’s the Bright Siren, the one who doesn’t shipwreck you; she sits on a tree of life, has a cool crown, and sings a song that erases care and worry.

Traditional Slavic Version of Alkonost

Traditional Slavic Version of Alkonost

I have two paintings in the show, including Europa.  I hear that the Big Bad Wolf will be there.  We all need a little wolf in our over-tamed lives.

Karina Nishi Marcus and Suzanne Edminster

El Anatsui: ‘On Their Fateful Journey to Nowhere’


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"Sacred Moon"

“Sacred Moon”

“Art is a reflection on life. Life isn’t something we can cut and fix. It’s always in a state of flux.” — El Anatsui     

The representation and inspiration of significant events of history has been a long and honored position in art and the image-making process.  Egyptians etched their royal exploits on stone walls for eternity. A battle triumph of Alexander the Great is constantly being fought with the Persians among tiny tesserae of colored glass. Napoleon, in the huge narrative painting by David, is forever crowning himself emperor for life. But how might an artist portray a history that combines a composition of story-telling, fables and primal myths, when language functions as symbols and where traditional cultures are deeply covered by fractured strata of colonialism and post-colonism?

Detail from "Scared Moon" from the "bottle-cap" series by El Anatsui

Detail from “Scared Moon” from the “bottle-cap” series by El Anatsui

You have most likely seen the beautiful and glistening tapestries / wall-hangings / blankets of sculptor/multi-media artist El Anatsui. This African artist treats the concepts of transience of physical materials with the eternity of a dream, elegant transcendent translations of distruction, construction and renewal. He uses the ordinary, very humble material of daily existence fluidly presented on a monumental scale.

Artist El Anatsui -- muli-media and multi-dimensional

Artist El Anatsui — muli-media and multi-dimensional

Born in 1944 in Ghana, before its independence, El Anatsui is the youngest of 32 children. Growing up in a household where his brothers wrote poetic lyrics for traditional rhythms and his father practiced weaving in his spare time, El Anatsui’s interest in art manifested at an early age. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture in 1968 and a postgraduate diploma in art education.

Red Block, 2010. Aluminum and copper wire, Two pieces, each 200 3/4 x 131 1/2 in.

“Red Bloke”

El Anatsui has been an inspirational professor of sculpture from 1975 until 2010 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His interest is in transmitting the process of seeing and developing vision to his students to increase their personal perceptions of the surrounding environment and the world beyond the scope of current experience.

From the 'bottle-cap' series by El Anatsui

From the ‘bottle-cap’ series by El Anatsui

He advocates to his students the following primary strategies for awareness of process and growth of artistic vision in relationship to the opportunity of chance.

  • Pull from your personal history for inspiration
  • Look for materials to your immediate environment and give them the opportunity to be more than just humble fragments
  • Travel when you can and bring all your travel experiences to bear on your work
  • Allow for the possibility of something unexpected, new and wonderful to happen
The installation of these works changes with the environment in which they are displayed -- from the "bottle cap" series by El Anatsui

The installation of these works changes with the environment in which they are displayed — from the “bottle cap” series by El Anatsui — “Stressed World” 2011.

Anatsui’s edict for himself and his students is to derive inspiration and materials from their respective environments. He proves that art material need not be expensive. He urges sensitive mindfulness in order to utilize “whatever the environment throws up” — not simply organic materials and natural resources but also the discarded, over-looked detritus of society such as bottle caps and tin milk cans.

"Black River" by El Anatsui

“Black River” by El Anatsui

In El Anatsui’s hands, simple materials do not result in simple works of art. His work embodies the idea that when only humble materials are available, their presentation in combined massive quantities multiples a sensation of monumentality.

"Between Earth and Heaven" by El Anatsui

“Between Earth and Heaven” by El Anatsui

fragment view and detail -- fascinating --  both from a distance and close view

fragment view and detail — fascinating — both from a distance and close view

His famous “bottle-cap” series came from a serendipitous chance find of a bag of garbage by the side of the road.  He looked inside and found a collection of used aluminum liquor caps, destined for recycling and re-semelting.  He took it back to his studio. (And how many times have we artists dragged strange items back to our lair with the thought  “I can do something with this — sometime — but I am not sure just what.”)  Eventually, he started to flatten the soft metals and then to link them, both physically with one another in intricate patterns of colors and textures but also with the history of slavery and oppression where the trade and distribution of alcohol played a pivotal role. These chance explorations became the glowing metal tapestries of bottle caps, draped on walls.

He explains: “All lids are from used bottles. Each represents a bottle of liquor consumed. As individual pieces, they are not linked. But when linked together they become powerful”

Ceramic works by El Anatsui "Broken Pots" series

Ceramic works by El Anatsui “Broken Pots” series

Though El Anatsui might use sources of traditional natural materials, such as clay. he employs twists on the customary approaches. For example, the series titled “Broken Pots.”

“At the time I made the Broken Pots series, I was thinking about the idea of breaking not as an end but as a beginning. ….In retrospect, I regard my process as an exhortation; that things have to break in order to start reshaping.”

Painting by El Anatsui -- Untitled, 1980s. Acrylic on Masonite

Painting by El Anatsui –” Untitled,” 1980s. Acrylic on Masonite

El Anatsui will often use house paint or even poster or tempera in his paintings, applied with house-painting rollers.

"Gravity and Grace" a work on a monumental scale -- 145 5/8 x 441 in.

“Gravity and Grace” a work on a monumental scale — 145 5/8 x 441 in.

There is no single trajectory in the scope of his approach to art-making. He utilizes found objects and materials, assemblage, ceramics, wood sculpture (natural form or carved and/or burned,) painting, drawing and printmaking — or any combination of all of these genres.

This image gives a flavor of the scale of some of these pieces

This image gives a flavor of the scale of some of these pieces

He states: “Media which come with history, meaning, with something mean something to me. Not just oil paint from a tube. I can’t relate to that well. I would rather go for something people have used. Then there is a link between me and the other people who have touched that piece.”

evocative found wood sculpture by El Anastui

evocative found wood sculpture by El Anatsui

El Anatsui also has a nomadic aesthetic.  When he travels, he has no need to bring art supplies with him.  An example of his response to a different, foreign environment is the above grouping of wooden sculptures, executed during an artist’s residency in Denmark. He spied the flotsam of old, scared wood on a harbor sand spit that evoked for him the wayward journeys of forced migrations of colonial slave trade. This grouping, of what we might interpret as human forms, gathers power from a multiplicity of simplicity and emotions.

“Rather than recounting history, my art is telling about what history has provoked.”

A play between substance and space --derail from the "bottle cap" series

A play between substance and space –detail from the “bottle cap” series

El Anatsui weaves story-telling and myths, language and symbols. Lanuage is an important element in his work. Traditional writing uses ideograms, which is a system of linguistic symbols.

His titles also relate to language and oral tradition communication, mythology, literature and/or events in African history. He avails himself of traditional names for designs and composition that cast a reflection on specific historic incidents, stories or proverbs. He also examines the concept of failed dialog that signifies a times in which the text of history remains indecipherable.

I adore his titles.  “In the World But Don’t Know the World,” “On Their Fateful Journey Nowhere,” “Leopard’s Paw-prints and other Stories,” “Neospeak Windows,” “Day and Night Opening to Each Other,” “Wonder Masquerade,” “Well-informed Ancestors,” “God’s Omnipotence,”  “Omen,” Chambers of Memory” and there are so many more beautiful examples.

"Conspirators" wooden relief with paint,'

“Conspirators” wooden relief with paint

But El Anatsui is notorious for his dislike of titling his work. He describes part of this process: ““I write short poems for titles sometimes. Sometimes they flow forth and sometimes they don’t come at all.” But he confesses:“I don’t know if a title is meaning.”

Unique approach to using a grid -- by El Anatsui

Unique approach to using a grid — by El Anatsui — “Old Cloth Series” 1993, Wood and paint, 31 1/2 x 60 1/4 inches

Another usage of chance in his art comes in its installation. Most artists will have detailed diagrams about special requirements of installation. El Anastsui does not give such instructions to patron or curator, relying on bringing individual creative sensibilities to the presentation. He acknowledges and honors the flux, fluidity and flexibility of his process.

"Drain Pipe" -- an example of an unique installation

“Drain Pipe” — an example of an unique installation

As an artist, El Anatsui expands his work to communicate in the world. He affirms: “I’ve been an artist searching my environment for material to work with, and I want it to be material that relates to the people, not something that is different from them.”

"On Their Fateful Journey to Nowhere"

“On Their Fateful Journey to Nowhere”

I was fortunate to view the El Anatsui retrospective “When I Last Wrote to You about Africa”  at the Denver Art Museum in the Fall of 2012. The memories are still stunning and stirring.

If you are lucky enough to be in New York City right now or toward the end of summer (until August 4th 2013,)  there is a current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

If you interested in learning more and seeing an installation of his work—please go here, where there are several interesting videos — including a wonderful interview with the artist.

Karina Nishi Marcus

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Celebrate Caerus co-creator Karina Nishi Marcus’ winery reception, Saturday Jan. 26, 3-6 PM, Geyserville


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Karina Nishi Marcus, from the Shanti series on display at DeLorimier Winery

Karina Nishi Marcus, from the Shanti series on display at DeLorimier Winery

Please celebrate Karina Nishi Marcus’ new show at the deLorimier Winery, Geyserville, CA on Saturday, January 26, 3-6 PM.  Come on over for an elegant touch to your weekend.   Pehaps her Rings of the Sun will bring the sun back! We would love to see some 2012 Caerus artists there.  Warning: we might pick your brain for ideas of what you might like us to do for Caerus Artist Residency in 2013– over a glass of wine, of course.

Directions to the deLorimier Winery: Take Hwy. 101 to the Geyserville Exit east, then turn onto Hwy. 128. The winery is located about 2 miles from this turn. Their telephone contact is (707) 57-2000.

You can find a Facebook invitation here, and a full invitation here.  Hope to see you Saturday!

Suzanne Edminster

How did I do with my art mini-goals?


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Suzanne Edminster, Tabula Rasa series, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 12" x 12"

Suzanne Edminster, Tabula Rasa series, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 12″ x 12″

How did I do with my art mini-goals? Well, I got into the studio more than three times this week, almost every day. Not all of these were productive– this morning I went to the studio because I forgot my phone there. But the steady stream of visits helped keep me on course.

Suzanne Edminster, worktable in Saltworkstudio, 2013

Suzanne Edminster, worktable in Saltworkstudio, 2013

I did three new starts, which you can see on the table (the orange paper pieces). Most of my starts were pretty murky. But doing these worked off some excess energy and freed me up to paint more loosely on the more neutral Tablula Rasa series, which you can see at the top of the post. The other start is very raw– see below. I feel brave to post it for you.

The studio is in the mid-forties when I walk in, but warms within an hour to the mid-sixties.  With the clear winter sun coming in through the skylights, it feels quite pleasant, airy and full of possibility.

Suzanne Edminster, Tabula Rasa series start, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 12" x 12"

Suzanne Edminster, Tabula Rasa series start, acrylic mixed media on canvas, 12″ x 12″

My other goal was to post online.  This is rather a dubious goal, because online work is normally a distraction from painting.  But I had developed a nasty little logjam of procrastination around publicizing my class.  I managed to break through it, write a newsletter, publicize my Sunday Studio classes, and fill the first one to capacity.

The value of these mini-goals is that they get you just to engage.  In domino effect, all good things appear from these small efforts:  paintings are developed, people are contacted, art skills become refined with practice.  They seem to open doors, and the new miracle walks in.  They create opportunity– and opportunity is that fleeting Caerus moment.

It feels a bit ironic to promote mini-goals when we just have been posting “think large” quotes from the Big Mike, Michelangelo. But these smaller goals in the face of resistance have proved so effective for me that I think I’ll keep them going for a while.

I was talking to Caerus Artist Sharyn Dimmick recently.  She has been busking (playing public music) for donations recently, and she told me how important commitment was in her day.  Many times, she said, her tips come in the last moments of her self-assigned shift.  I noticed this in my studio practice as well. Sometimes the fluent painting or new insight comes in the final moments of your studio time, not at the beginning.  The tiny steps can bring you there.

How did you do with your art mini- goals?

Suzanne Edminster

Caerus note:  There’s a new blog post on Saltworkstudio with some ideas on art and play.

Lessons From Michelangelo — Part 2


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Michelangelo's_Pieta “Pieta” by Michelangelo, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica

The scope of Michelangelo’s world is beautifully staggering.  Here is the second post (part one is located here.) on some of the numerous lessons we can gleam from the life of this artist.

Michelangelo Lesson: Always Continue your Art Education
Michelangelo Lesson: Learn from the Greats

“I am still learning.” — Michelangelo

“I regret ….that I am dying just as I am beginning to learn the alphabet of my profession.”

When Michelangelo accepted the commission of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he knew he would have to learn many new skills.  He thought he would have to master painting (which he abandoned as a teenager, when he discovered sculpture.) He would have to learn the technique of “buon fresco” (which was difficult enough, but he knew he would have to develop methods for fresco arching overhead.)  And he would to specialize in curvilinear perspective, for the vault was curved and the viewer would be 65 feet below and looking up (which is why some of the figures in conventional photography look distortional.)

Michelangelo was a great admirer of the classical sculpture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  It is said that he personally witnessed the excavation of the statue ‘The Lacoön.”  The combination of the sensuous forms in this sculpture plus its mountmental scale are said to have influenced both his sculptural compositions and the entwining of humans forms in the Sistine Chapel.

Although the study of human anatomy could bring torture and even death, Michelangelo was know to be a skilled anatomist. He considered the study of this forbidden subject to be fundamental to the structure of his work.

One of the wonders of art-making is that there is always more to learn, that the journey of creativity never ends.  We artists no longer risk death in furthering our artistic education — so take a class, sign up for a workshop, or purchase a book on a new techniques that fascinates your imagination.You might wish to make a great artist, living or of the past, your mentor — or you might immerse yourself in an specific era of art history to apprentice yourself to lessons their example might impart to you. We need to develop and maintain the spirit of experimentation and exploration in the scope of our work.

The "David" -- iconic work of Michelangelo

The “David” — iconic work of Michelangelo

Michelangelo Lesson: Use Lavish Materials Lavishly
Michelangelo Lesson: Use the Materials You Have

“The more the marbles wastes, the more the statue grows.”

The above quote derives from criticism that he was wasting stone in his method of sculpting.

Michelangelo was know to travel great distances to supervise the quarrying of his marble and to attend to special transportation so that his materials were not damaged during long journeys on rutted roads by donkey cart. He also meticulous care in the preparation of paint for the Sistine Chapel.

But Michelangelo also took over the tall marble (over 11 feet) for the “David” which was originally started by another artist plus there was a flaw in the stone that was thought to be impossible to overcome.

The only waste of paint is when it remains snugly in the tube, for it is a cause and effect function that the more paint one places on the palette — the more one will paint.

Although many artists take into account the duration of time they might wish for their works of art to endure, and purchase the best quality of materials, few think as far in the future as Michelangelo, whose Sistine Chapel just celebrated 500 years. Nevertheless, it is ideal to have the best possible opportunity for survival under current circumstances.

Some artists have no care for any conservation of their work. I knew one artist who in effect wrote on the back of a painting something in the order of ”let it rot” to any future conservators — viewing changes and decay as part of the creation process..  But each artist must measure the quality of their raw materials and their philosophy of longevity of their work.

"Sybil" -- drawing for the Sistine Chapel

“Sybil” — drawing for the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo's shopping list and drawings for the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s shopping list and drawings for the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo Lesson: Draw More —

“Design, which by another name is called drawing . . . is the fount and body of painting and sculpture and architecture and of every other kind of painting and the root of all sciences.”

“Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure.” 

“Draw…, draw – draw and don’t waste time!” 

“Believe it or not, I can actually draw.” 

Drawing in the Renaissance of Florence and Rome was considered the prime source of visual virtuosity, the main source of exploration into nature and essential for the advancement of knowledge. During that period, drawing was considered the first step in painting and in other works of art and science.

Michelangelo was a compulsive drawer. He was enamored with the process of drawing.  It was not until he was in his 50’s that he produced what he considered finished drawings (which makes all the “Presentation Drawings” — included in Part 1 — given for educational and emotional reasons, all the more remarkable.)

In Michelangelo’s drawings one notices his use of the paper. Variations on a theme often crowds every inch of the page. One receives the impression that perhaps he was so engrossed in the process of drawing, following the fleeting shadow of vision,  that he did not wish to stop to find another sheet. Or perhaps he simply wished to make efficient and prudent use of his supplies, for his drawings were mainly considered personal and private and were jealously guarded.

Now days, drawing has fallen by the wayside as an important endeavor.  But we are also freed to have drawing as a separate art form, as many artists paint directly on the surface without the intermediary step of drawing.  And we are no longer tethered to representation but can roam into the realm of personal sensation and vision.

Michelangelo plan for a secret library

Michelangelo plan for a secret library

Michelangelo Lesson: Muster and Master Time 

“There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.” 

“Genius is eternal patience.”

Michelangelo was sensitive to the amount of time given in one’s life. Problems with time management and procrastination are not unique to artists, but perhaps we artists experience these dilemmas of the passage of moments more acutely.

There is a season in the creative process — particularly upon completion of a major project or endeavor, when we need to lie quiet as a fallow field in renewal and replenishment,  Some artists also refer to this phenomena as “filling the well (of creation.)”

But at other periods — there is the incursion of the duties of daily life that intrude upon time needed for our studio practice.  There is also the mirage termed as “artist’s block” when artists maintain they are simply incapable of creative work because of the lack of inspiration.

We artists need to distinguish between these various manifestations of problems with time management. We need to honor fallow periods as a phase of the creative process, while simultaneously, even subconsciously, begin the naissance of our next work.  And the demands of the everyday will always expand to flood and chock every minute of our lives.  For that aspect, we need to schedule studio time and keep that appointment sacred for our creativity.

For those who feel “blocked” and bereft of inspiration — remove that word from your artistic vocabulary. The universe is resplendent with creative energy.  Start on anything, anywhere, play-mess-around-doodle — do something for a specific period of time, even if it is only for 15 minutes.  At some point, usually very quickly, you will feel the creative fire to continue and the brush of the wings of your angel of inspiration.

"Piazza del Campidogilo" -- designed by Michelangelo

“Piazza del Campidogilo” — designed by Michelangelo

Michelangelo Lesson: Develop a Unique Approach and Perspective

“I dare affirm that any artist… who has nothing singular, eccentric, or at least reputed to be so, in his person, will never become a superior talent.”

“Already at 16, my mind was a battlefield: my love of pagan beauty, the male nude, at war with my religious faith. A polarity of themes and forms – one spiritual, the other earthly.”

Michelangelo seemed to always have a personal twist in his work.  He was commissioned to have only 12 figures for the Sistine ceiling — but he composed a suite of over 300 figures plus the tromp-oeil of architectural details.

With the “David,” he did not represent the traditional triumphant warrior David after the battle, but the shepherd boy before the fight with a giant, with the assertion of determination in his gaze along with a subtle hint of hidden doubt.

Have a vision of the scope of your potential — explore your contradictions. It is not merely a case of finding one’s unique style but includes an expression of the mysteries of creation and dreams.

The "Slave" or "Prisoners" statues

The “Slave” or “Prisoners” statues

"The Dying Slave"

“The Dying Slave”

My journey with the richness of Michelangelo has expanded the scope of my vision — and also my inquiry into the “Lessons from Michelangelo” which will grow into a third posting to come.

I invite everyone to add their own personal lesson that might be distilled from the work and life of this iconic artist.

Karina Nishi Marcus

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Create Three Do-able Art Habits for 2013– starting this week!


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Suzanne Edminster, The Cows Come Home, acrylic combined media, 24" x 24"

Suzanne Edminster, The Cows Come Home, acrylic combined media, 24″ x 24″

Part of the issue of achievement is to be able to set realistic goals, but that’s one of the hardest things to do because you don’t always know exactly where you’re going, and you shouldn’t. (George Lucas)

Are you, like me, mired in lists of goals? Worthy moral goals, health goals, art  goals? Notebooks, index cards, sticky notes? Urgent goals and long-term goals and goals for others?

Go ahead and write them up , then throw them out. Choose one to three do-able goals, then cut them in half. It’s ok to halve them again and again. For instance, I started this blog with wanting to ask for five goals, then I cut it to three.  I may only get two.  The object is to make the goals so small that you will actually do them.  Ridiculously, microscopically teensy-weensy goals that you can actually do this week, Monday through Sunday.

I’ll post my one to three goals in the comments section, then report on art progress next week.  What are your one to three ludicrously small and do-able art habits? Post them in the comments section– it adds a little accountability.  I’ll start with mine.  We offer a  big wet brush-full  of good wishes to all Caerus readers for 2013.

The great secret about goals and visions is not the future they describe but the change in the present they engender. (David Allen, author)

Suzanne Edminster

My 2013 Saltworkstudio classes start Sunday, January 27 in my new SOFA Backstreet Gallery studio!  Please join me… there’s currently a special offer if you sign up for all four of them.  I explain a bit about my work in this video.

Lessons from Michelangelo — Part 1


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Michelangelo’s “Phaeton” from the “Presentation Drawings”

Inspired by my research for my post about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, I have been ruminating about his connection to the 21st century with lessons presented by this iconic artist.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is considered to be one of the two artists (the other was Leonardo da Vinci, his rival) cited for the very creation of the Italian Renaissance. Considering his prodigious quantity  of work in many fields during the length of his long life, there is also added a huge volume of correspondence and surviving sketches. He was a versatile painter, sculptor, draftsman, poet, as well as an architect and an engineer.

I have not numbered these musings about the variety of lessons inspired by the work and life of Michelangelo as I did not wish to create a sense of hierarchy. Each person will choose (or not) from among the lessons those that are important and insightful for their particular motivation and revelation.

“The Punishment of Tityus,” 1532, by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo Lesson: Work Hard at Hard Work —

“If people knew how hard I worked to achieve my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.” — Michelangelo

“If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”

Michelangelo was a hard worker and he focused on each of his many and varied endeavors. Today, people tend to think of him as a “super-artist”– an artist with magical powers that are otherworldly and not repicatable. But as Thomas Alva Edison observed — genius consists of one percent inspiration with the additional  of ninety-nine percent of perspiration.  A more accurate assessment is that Michelangelo worked incredibly hard every day. He worked in pain. Working on the Sistine Chapel was  a brutal experience for him because the scaffolding 65 feet above the floor was curved. He had to work with his back bent and his chin pointing toward the ceiling. The paint dripping into his eyes ruined his vision during that project. Yet he continued to work almost every day.

Michelangelo is truly great — but the essence of his many successes derives from his adherence to the continual application of effort despite circumstances.

Ask yourself if there is a method to learn to love to work and to increase your effort in your art and life while still honoring your self-care (more on this in another lesson.)

“The Dream of Human Life” — part of the “Presentation Drawings”

Michelangelo Lesson: Dedicate Yourself to a Big Project —

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo

“I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” 

We currently live within a different economic structure than during the Renaissance.  There are no powerful patron families to support artists and their art education (such as the de Medici family palace where Michelangelo, as a teenager, first started to sculpt,) nor political potentate popes (Pope Julius ll who commissioned the Sistine Chapel and later, between 1535 and 1541, Pope Paul lll ordered Michelangelo’s to paint his version of the “Last Judgement” over the altar on the back wall,) nor proud city-states to order a commanding statue (the city-state of Florence with the statue of “David.”) An artist might argue that if it not economically feasible to dedicate one’s time and materials to a large far-reaching project or concentrate one’s work to explore within a grand theme.

The best quality in our economic situation is that we are not “under another’s thumb” as Michelangelo expressed in one of his poems. We generally do not have to deal with the changing whims of powerful patrons. We are free to formulate our personal, unique direction and discretion in our work.

Try musing upon a variation of a goal setting tool — is there a big project that you would be actually be astonished if you completed?  You do not have to set that as a potential goal, but it might help start you to consider a broader range of possibilities.

Our current culture has accustomed us to instantaneity, micro-wave rapidity, and results in a general sense of impatience — that things take too long and ought to be resolved within the span of an hour television program.

Michelangelo, at 23 years old, carved the “Pieta” in two years.  He chiseled three years on the “David.”  The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel entailed a labor of four years.

Some times a masterwork simply takes time — and there is not a shortcut to accomplishment.

“The Risen Christ” — also considered to be a part of the “Presentation Drawings”

Michelangelo Lesson: Find Your Inspiration in Your Work

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” 

This quote comes from a story from the period of the carving of the “David.” A child asks Michelangelo in effect what was he doing. So, I believe that Michelangelo was uttering a metaphor about his own creative life.

Consider that your inspiration may lay within the scope of your work — rather than some variety of external mythic source of inspiration.  Many people mistakenly believe that inspiration is some outward outside source over which one does not have control.

You may come to see that the angel of inspiration is inside you. It is our responsibility to explore how to free this angel.

“The Rape of Gandymede” — from the “Presentation Drawings”

Michelangelo Lesson: Maintain and Honor Your Standards

-remark before stripping a whole section of the Sistine Chapel he was working on…
“If the wine is not good, then throw it out!” 

Early in the painting of the Sistine ceiling, Michelangelo had troubles with a mold that started on some of his already completed panels.  There is a debate if this was the reasons of the positioning of the damp building near water, or Michelangelo’s inexperience with the media of fresco painting, or some combination of the two factors. He was strongly discouraged about starting again from scratch. But Michelangelo asserted his own level of standards with the quality of his work.

Consider ways to maintain and cleave to your own standards of quality, presentation and preservation of your work, or even if there are ways you might increase this reality.

” The Fall of Phaton” — from the “Presentation Drawings”

Michelangelo Lesson: Create More, Critique Less

“Critique by creating.” 

“Why do you send fools to judge my work?” 

“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges.” 

Michelangelo maintained his own standards of finishing and even an early quest for perfection. (His understanding of seemingly earthly perfection changed over his many years of experience in art making.) But he knew that the process of creation was fundamentally different from the process of judgement and the function and timing of a critique.

Many artists mistake their own ongoing critical views of their work in process as a function of creating.  They are actually two separate entities.

ideal Face — likely from the “Presentation Drawings”

Michelangelo Lesson: Simplify to Express the Essence

“Beauty is the purgation of superfluities.”  

“With few words I shall make thee understand my soul.” 

In the progress of the sections of the Sistine Chapel, one can see how Michelangelo simplified the number of figures to impart the drama of the section of the story of Genesis. He learned to communicate the essence without extraneous additions.  In his later sculptural work, he changed his orientation about finishing.  His “Slave” sculptures still emerge slowly from the element of rough hewn rock and are all the most expressive.

This relates to the adage of “Less is more.”

Think how you might refine the various components of your art, to trim the extaneous to better focus your vision.

“Archers shotting at a Herm”

Michelangelo Lesson: Discount Doubt —

-to his assistant…
“I am no artist – please come and help me.”  — Michelangelo

“Faith in oneself is the best and safest course.” — Michelangelo

We all may have bouts of doubt.  Even Michelangelo had doubt.  He doubted he was capable of the task of painting the Sistine Chapel, but undertook the commission despite his misgiving about the entire project. He created an enduring iconic environment within the arched vault of the building that continues to overwhelming inspire viewers.

But just because doubt might show up at the door does not require you to then entertain it and ask it to sit down for supper. Remember that you are in the same league as Michelangelo — the league of artists and those engaged in the constructive creation of new realities and future dreams. You posses both similar limitations and possibilities.

“The Pieta” — another “Presentation Drawing”

This is Part 1 of possible lessons inspired by Michelangelo.  Part 2 will appear in the next installment.

I am positive that there are many more lessons other than the ones covered in these posts.  I welcome any and all additions to contribute to the treasures of Michelangelo.

Karina Nishi Marcus

(Michelangelo’s “Presentation Drawings,” created in the 1530’s, were named because they were created as gift to a young Roman aristocrat who was learning to draw. Drawing was a respectable accomplishment for an Italian aristocrat. These were a sort of love offering by the artist who was then in his 50’s to the teenager renowned for his beauty and cultural refinement. There still exists a documented series of correspondence, including poems, between the two.)

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Sistine 500th Celebration


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The Sistine Chapel is a hallmark in the history of art

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” — Michelangelo

“True art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it.” — Michelangelo

This November, artists and everyone celebrates the completion, 500 years ago, of the Sistine Chapel frescos by Michelangelo Buonarroti.  The 12,000 square feet of the Chapel vault, or ceiling, was completed in four years, from 1508 to the 2nd of November 1512.

The Sistine Chapel is astonishing as the vision of an artist

Commissioned Pope Julius ll for this herculean task, Michelangelo was intimidated by the sheer, enormous scale of the endeavor (the ceiling painting surface equalled about a 1/4th of an acre.) He wanted desperately to decline.  Michelangelo thought he was being set up by his enemies (he apparently had a touch of paranoia, but but perhaps not without reason) to fail miserably and thus ruin his already exalted reputation as an artist resulting from his sculptural works of the “Pieta” and the “David.” But in Renaissance Italy, the command by the pope was an offer he couldn’t refuse

The intricacies of the frescos is difficult to fathom

The sources of Michelangelo’s inspiration for his portrayal of the unexpected combination of Biblical history and depictions from Genesis mixed with Greek prophets (the Delphic Sybils) shown at the same level of importance as Old Testament prophets are now veiled by mystery and time.  It is thought that Michelangelo used the Sistine ceiling as a secret forum to include aspects of forbidden, heretical knowledge during a period of history when such awareness might be punishable by death.

One of the sibylline prophets

The Libyan Sybil

“The Creation of Adam” is among the most famous paintings in the world

Transference of energy — hand of God on the right

The most striking, and what would certainly have been blasphemous, of these hidden in plain sight images is within one of the iconic images of the sistine Chapel:  “The Creation of Adam.” It is well-documented that Michelangelo had expertise in human anatomy as the result of outlawed dissection of cadavers. The hypothesis that this composition was based on an anatomical rendering of the human brian was not asserted until the 1990’s.

The shape of the brian is one of the many hidden origins of images

Direct study of anatomy was forbidden, thus hidden

There are also assertions that various compositions are based on hebrew letter-forms.  It is known that Michelangelo studied the Torah and other ancient hebrew teachings when he was a teenager at the de Medici family estate, which served as his early school. Such inqueries into these ancient texts were also forbidden.

Among the many myths about the Sistine Chapel is that Michelangelo mainly painted laying on his back on scaffolding 65 feet high, suspended downward from the ceiling. As you can see you the artist’s own drawing, his neck was craned back and his chin was always pointed upward.  He reported he could work for ten minutes before his pain started, but he continued to work the rest of the day literally in agony.

Four years of agony for the artist — but sublime outcome

I believe this misconception has been reinforced by the 1965 film “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (where one can be forgiven for confusing the portrayal by Charlton Heston as Michelangelo with Moses or even God.)

Michelangelo stated that he started the project as a vigorous young man of 33 but after it was finished, he was an old and broken man, whose friends would not recognize him, at 37. Though he lived for almost fifty more years, during his time working on this high vault and from his extensive vision, he was often in poor health and feared dying before completion.  He wrote a plaintive and complaining sonnet about the travails of this work. (You can hear a reading of Michelangelo’s sonnet about working on the Sistine frescos here.)

The example of Michelangelo’s dedication to work on an overwhelming, awe inspiring project that has now endured a half-millennium holds valuable lessons for artists and for living.  In my next posting, I will attempt to illuminate a few of those lessons.

Karina Nishi Marcus 

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